Darkness at the Dom

If you were in or around Utrecht city this past Saturday night, you may have looked at the skyline and wondered where the Domtoren was. My husband and I certainly would have had I not read aggieLap’s blog entry Nacht van de Nacht. The Domtoren was, of course, still standing tall and proud in the Domplein, but unlike every other night of the year, the tower was not illuminated.

The Domtoren was not the only one to turn off it’s lights. Throughout the Netherlands, lights were turned off and special candlelit events took place. Night photography and astronomy workshops were also given and zoos remained open.

The idea behind Nacht van de Nacht is to inspire people to reduce their light usage and create an awareness of light pollution. This is a major concern for the Dutch as the Netherlands is one of the top three generators of light pollution in the world, according to the Light Pollution Handbook. Most of this is due to keeping the country’s many greenhouses lit.[/caption]

Why 24 October 2009? This day marks the official move from fall to winter this year. It’s also the day that the Dutch moved their clocks back an hour. There was very little moon that night which, in combination with turning the lights out at monuments, bridges, and major buildings throughout the country, makes for optimal star gazing opportunities.


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Before and After Meme for Expats: After

I’ve walked a mile in someone else’s clogs

Several months ago, Isabella over at A Touch of Dutch posted the following Meme to get an idea of many an expat’s first impression of the Netherlands and how they feel after having lived here a spell. I decided to join in on the fun! Here are my answers:


Upon arriving, can you remember the overall impression you had in the first 48 hours?
It was so much to take in. I actually ended up hiding in my new home with my husband, unpacking, getting over jetlag, making myself at home, and spending time together. There were a few “what am I doing here?” moments, but also a wonderful sense of adventure. It was a bit scary at first and I remember feeling so alone in taking this big step – like I was the first woman ever to move to the Netherlands for love.

Tell me about your bicycle, if you have one. Is it borrowed or rented or do you own it? Have you ever had your bike stolen? Feel free to mention and elaborate on anything special concerning experiences you have or have had with your bike.
Her name is Bonnie. Oddly enough, I never had the inclination to name any of my 3 cars, but the bike didn’t go for more than a week without a name.

She’s my husband’s bike (his friend never used his bike, so gave it to my husband so we would each have a bike to use) and has back-pedal brakes and is a putrid brown color. I’ve since jazzed her up with a pink fietstas and a pink Disney princess bicycle bell. My plan is to paint her pink with white stencils.

Luckily, no one’s ever stolen Bonnie or any of her accoutrements. I love Bonnie – she’s the best! I’d rather take her out than take the bus or the car, even if it’s raining. The biggest issue is getting my dog Turner used to her. He’s an American dog and absolutely chicken about everything. Especially bikes.

I’ve had my share of spills and embarrassing moments, but now I can cycle while carrying an umbrella, in heels, with Turner, with flowers, with ridiculous amounts of cargo on the back, while sending text messages and making phone calls, and I can keep my balance in almost all situations! The only thing I haven’t done that I’m dying to try is carry someone on the back of my bike. I just need to find someone brave enough to give me a chance!

Name three of your favorite things about the Dutch culture that first come to mind.

  1. Bringing flowers or a bottle of wine for your host
  2. Acceptance of animals in public places (restaurants, cafes, shops, parks, etc)
  3. Cycling!

Of the things you never knew before coming here, what have you learnt about the NL?
There are over 400 museums and castles in the country. Different regions have their own dialects and, in some cases, their own languages. It was occupied by the Nazis during WWII and much of the Dutch army at that time traveled by bike. The most fascinating things are all the connections with New York. There’s even an Utrecht in New York!

Culture shock. Does it ring a bell?
Yes, but not a particularly loud one. I think the biggest thing for success in moving here is to get over your own culture. No, they don’t do things or behave here like they do in your country, but guess what? It’s not your country! I hear all the time about how rude the Dutch are and, while I agree in some instances, I am making this judgment while holding them up to American cultural standards. In the US, they would be considered rude. In the UK and France, the same. But we’re not in any of those countries.

You also have to realize that many of the things you do that are acceptable in your culture might not be acceptable here. When we’re in someone else’s country, we need to adopt the “when-in-Rome…” attitude.

The first month I was here, I noticed the lack of excuse-me-pardon-mes and even got grabbed by the shoulders and physically moved to the side so someone behind me could get past. It doesn’t go unnoticed that the waiters would let me sit and rot before they’d think to come and get my order. But that’s how things are done here more often than not and I need to accept that and move on.

How far have you come with learning Dutch?
Not bad! My husband and I have 2 days during the week when we speak Dutch to each other and I now speak mostly Dutch with his friends. I’ve only taken one formal class, but am going to be starting my inburgeringscursus later on this month. As part of my inburgering, I’ve opted to do a Duo Project where I’ll meet with a native Dutch speaker one day a week and talk with them (in Dutch, of course). I’ve also joined an all-women, all-Dutch singing group, which has been a fun little challenge. And I speak only Dutch when I go into town.

Has your view of politics or world issues changed from how you previously viewed things before living in the NL?
I always knew things were less than desirable in the US, but moving outside of my country made me realize just how bad it is. How naïve, closed minded, and self-centered many Americans are. It has been interesting to see some of the same issues from a different perspective and I certainly understand the idea of a modern-day monarchy much better now. I’ve always been very liberal in my thinking, so I fit in much better here than I did in the US!

Coffee-shops and smart-shops. What is your opinion?
To be honest, I have no idea what a smart-shop is. Coffee-shops though are fine by me. I’ve never been in one and of the people I know, if they end up paying a visit once a year that’s a lot.

I’m a huge advocate of the philosophy that if you can do it and it’s easily accessible, you’re less likely to want to do it. There’s something so uncontrollably appealing about forbidden fruit. Plus, if you make it legal, you can control it. In the US, people pay a fortune and can’t guarantee that what they’re paying for and using is safe or good. People get killed in drug busts all the time.

The main problem with coffee shops and the legalization of drugs in the Netherlands is that when tourists come in, they abuse the privilege, binge on it, and ruin it for everyone else. FYI: the UK, the US, and Australia are just a few of the countries that have a higher rate of soft drug use than the Netherlands.

Since living here, have you learned anything new about yourself? Or perhaps you have learned something new? A new hobby or a new way of life?
I’ve certainly made a lot of new friends and seen a lot of new things and been to a lot of new places. I’ve become more independent. I started this blog and began my journey to becoming a freelance writer.

I also got up the gumption to start selling some of my handmade yarn products at http://www.stuffmadewithyarn.etsy.com/ and started my own business, which is something I never would have had the guts to do before. My company, Little Broadway travels around to international schools with an after school musical theater program. So far, I have 2 schools lined up for this fall.

I’ve also gotten much closer to my dog. About a week before moving here, I got married and married life has also taught me many things about myself. And I’m loving everyday of my marriage and my adventures here in the Netherlands!

Check out the previous post to see my BEFORE answers

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Before and After Meme for Expats: Before

Several months ago, Isabella over at A Touch of Dutch posted the following Meme to get an idea of many an expat’s first impression of the Netherlands and how they feel after having lived here a spell. I decided to join in on the fun! Here are my answers:


– Before you knew you’d be coming to the NL, for whatever reason you originally came to the NL, truthfully how much did you know about the country?
Not much actually. I knew about the windmills, clogs, and tulips. I was aware that NL was in Europe but had no idea where exactly. I had no idea that Holland was the Netherlands (although now I know that’s incorrect and that Holland is actually referring to sections of the country). The shame of it all is that I should know more as the Netherlands played a huge role in the development of part of my country!

– Did you learn about the NL in school when you were growing up?
I probably did at some point, but it obviously went in one ear and out the other.

– Do you have family who is Dutch or of Dutch heritage?
Not that I know of, but I don’t know much about my family history/origins at all, unfortunately.

– Were you aware the language the Dutch spoke was Dutch and not German or any other language?
I had honestly never given it much thought until I started dating a Dutchman. But, then again, it is kind of obvious that the Dutch would speak Dutch.

-Have you ever lived outside of your home country for longer than one month prior to living in the NL?
I lived in the UK for 3 months as part of a study abroad program in college and lived in France prior to that for right at a month with friends.

– Had you learned to speak a language other than your own, even if only partially so, before coming to the NL?
French and Spanish

– When you learned you’d be coming to the NL, did you feel it was important to learn Dutch?
I didn’t feel as though it was important – it was imperative. I was not going to go to another country to visit, much less live there, without knowing the language. Plus, I want to learn my husband’s first language and I realize that our children will also speak Dutch. How can I not want to learn?

– Did anyone prepare you with info of any type before you came to live in the NL, did you attempt to find info on your own, or did you come to the NL without preparing?
A friend of my husband’s is married to a Canadian woman who has been living in the Netherlands for 7 years now. I met her about a month before I moved and she told me about the International Women’s Contact Utrecht. She and her husband paid for my membership for the first year as our wedding gift and I went to my first event three days after landing at Schiphol airport. That was a tremendous help! Other than that, I’ve just been figuring things out on my own – and more often than not, the hard way.

– How did your family and friends react when they learned you’d be moving to the NL?
My mom gave us a year before she wanted us to move back to the US. Now she’s starting to be a little more realistic, but not by much (our new deadline is before we decide to have children)! My other friends and family members were impressed, shocked, surprised and jealous all at the same time. The general reaction was “I could never do what you’re doing – you’re so brave,” followed by “I’m going to miss you!”

– What did you think would be your biggest challenge living in a foreign country ? Or did you feel you would face any big challenges?
I was terrified of the cycling culture. Physical activity, having to cycle in the rain and cold was just too much to bear! I was also worried about how I would handle the weather. Then, of course, there was the worry about finding friends, a job, activities and hobbies.

To break things up a bit and keep you on your toes, the AFTER will be appearing in the next post

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Little Broadway!

Bringing a little bit of Broadway to the Netherlands

Little Broadway is in business!

Bank account. check!
Kamer van Koophandel (Chamber of Commerce) registration. check!
First gig. check!
Website and email address. check!

The first session will take place at the Violenschool in Hilversum on 26 October 2009. Sixteen students between the ages of 4 and 8 are enrolled and excited as I am to get started! The website is still under construction and awaiting a proper logo. You can send an email to littlebroadwaynl@gmail.com.

I also recently did a theater workshop for the October monthly meeting of the International Women’s Contact Utrecht. Ten women were in attendance and had a blast! I’m still hearing about it!

And Hubs has been working hard at the office, where they have just switched over to a new data base. They are still ironing out a few problems with the new system, but once everything’s in place, life at the office should get much easier.

Turner is still helping me babysit on Tuesdays and this upcoming week, we’re adding another little one to the list. This means Turner will be cycling every day this week – a big step!

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Elephants on Parade

You’ve heard of Party Animals and Pandamonium. Now it’s time for Elephants on Parade

If you’ve been to Washington, DC in the last five or so years, you may have seen some real Party Animals or experienced a bit of Panda Mania. Well, it’s DC’s turn to step aside as Amsterdam plays host to a pack of colorful pachyderm from September 5th through October 31st for the Elephant Parade.

This collection of 100 elephants – whose predecessors were previously seen in Rotterdam and Antwerp – is the brain child of father/son team Mike and Marc Spits and are modeled after real live baby Asian elephants. Local and international artists painted the elephants which are to be auctioned off on Novemeber 12th at Zuiveringshal Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam following a pre-bidding auction November 3-11.

Proceeds accrued from the auction will be donated to Elephant Family, the world’s largest charity for elephants. The hope is to raise money and publicity for the Asian Elephant. With only 40-50,000 in the world today (16,000 of which live in captivity), the Asian elephant – numbered at 300,000 at the turn of the 20th century – is undoubtedly headed for extinction. The efforts in Antwerp and Rotterdam in 2007 raised over €700,000 and the upcoming auction in Amsterdam is expected to do even better.

This past Friday, on my way into a meeting in Amsterdam, I happened to catch a few along Rokin and on Spui. Not having heard of the display, it was an unexpected, yet very pleasant surprise. And, of course I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures to share! More elephants can be seen in the following locations.

  • Museumplein
  • Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
  • Koningsplein
  • Westermarkt
  • Jodenbreestraat
  • Kalvertoren
  • Amstelveld
  • Frederiksplein
  • and Nieuwmarkt

If you must miss this go around, however, don’t fret. More parades are being planned for France, Belgium, and Thailand. Enjoy the photos! If you have additional ones that you would like to share, leave a link. Do you have an account of your own run-in with the tusked beasts that you’d like to tell us about in a comment? I’d love to hear from you. :0)

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Dutch Kitchen: Hutspot Recipe

The Dutch get creative with their meat and potatoes
This hutspot recipe is perfect for blah weather

One of the most popular traditional Dutch meals is hutspot, known in English as hotchpotch. And a good hutspot recipe is a must-have for expats in the Netherlands.

According to legend, the dish began life as cooked potato bits left behind by the Spanish during their hasty retreat following the siege of Leiden in 1574 during the Eighty Year’s War.

During Nazi occupation during World War Two, hutspot became a symbol of Dutch freedom as all the ingredients, being grown beneath the ground, could be kept from Nazi sight.

Nowadays, this warm mash of vegetables is a great dish for the autumn and winter months. It’s filling, warm, and healthy.

I recently used the following recipe to make hutspot for a friend visiting from the U.S. She, like another pal I’d made the dish for back in the spring, absolutely loved it, calling it “the perfect blend of all the comfort foods.”

My favorite part about this dish is that it’s delightfully simple to make and literally anything can be added to it, from other vegetables to any combination of any spices.

Here’s how it’s made:

If you really want to do it the old-fashioned Dutch way, you’ll need:

Mashed potato with carrot, onion
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  1. 1 pound potatoes, peeled
  2. 1 pound carrots, peeled
  3. 1 onion, chopped
  4. curry powder
  5. milk
  6. butter
  7. salt and pepper
  1. Peel and roughly chop potatoes and carrots, and add to a pot of water. Boil until soft.
  2. Meanwhile, finely chop an onion and sauté in oil until soft and transparent. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Once the vegetables have finished boiling, drain the pot of water.
  4. Mash vegetables together, adding butter and milk to make moist and fluffy.
  5. Season to taste with curry powder, salt and pepper.
  1. The Dutch pretty much live on a meat and potatoes diet, and hutspot tends to follow that rule. If you’d like to add some meat to your hutspot, you can serve with a worst or smoked sausage on the side; dice and cook slab bacon and mix it through before serving; drizzle each serving with gravy; serve alongside pot roast.
  2. Equally delicious as a vegetarian dish. Eat alone or add raisins, dried apricots, or chopped/sliced roasted apple.
Eet smakelijk!

What’s your favorite drab-weather dish? If you’ve tried hutspot before or given this recipe a go, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Arnhem’s Openlucht Museum wins the 2009 BankGiro Loterij Museumprijs

Testing out the old Dutch cupboard beds at the Openlucht Museum in Arnhem

The BankGiro Loterij is the cultural lottery in the Netherlands. Each year, in association with Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the BankGiro Loterij selects one museum as the recipient of the Museumprijs (museum award) and €100,000. Each year has a different theme. In 2008, the category was archeological museums. For 2009, judges were looking for museums with the goal of making Dutch history accessible to both children and adults.

This year’s winner is the Openluchtmuseum  (Open Air Museum) in Arnhem. The museum’s director Pieter-Matthijs Gijsbers is elated by the outcome: “We are a museum of Dutch for all Dutch. I would like to warmly thank all those who voted for us.”

Jury members praised the museum for it’s success in representing the culture of Dutch daily living through hands-on activities, displays, and shows. The museum’s aim is to bring Dutch folk life and traditions to life in an outdoor setting.

Established in 1912, the museum is due to celebrate 100 years in 2012. In 1987, the Dutch government prepared to shut down the museum, but a flood of visitors on the day it was set to close forced the government to leave it open. Wise move as the museum is still popular today and was also awarded the European Museum of the Year in 2005.

In May 2009, I had the pleasure of visiting the Openluchtmuseum. Luckily, although the weather was threatening before we left, it turned out to be a beautiful day. We saw a live weaving demonstration, walked through a sea of windmills, strolled through their beautiful gardens, saw the interiors and exteriors of 17th century Dutch homes and farms, chugged free samples at their onsite brewery, and I even got to test out a typical Dutch cupboard bed! If you go, be sure to take a look through some of the quaint little shops and have some of their sensational poffertjes for lunch.

You can get into the Openluchtmuseum for free with a Museumkaart. Entry is €14,00 for adults and €9,80 for children ages 4-12. Children 3 and under get in for free. You can even bring Fido along! The museum is open from April 1 through November 1 from 10am-5pm.

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The Best Thing about Living in the Netherlands

Bonnie The Bike after undergoing Tiffization

Bonnie is one of my best friends here in the Netherlands. We spend an inordinate amount of time together. Although there have been times when we haven’t been the nicest to each other (like the time I locked her out in the rain or the time she pushed me against a shop window) we always make up in the end. We’ve also been through a lot together: getting caught out in storms, getting lost and finding our way again, exploring new areas and taking trips together.

To be honest, Bonnie was one of the things I dreaded most about coming here. I just wasn’t sure that we’d mesh as her lifestyle is so different from the one I had back in the US. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle her. The first few weeks together weren’t easy. And let’s just say we didn’t exactly hit it off the first time I met her.

But since then, Bonnie has introduced me to a whole new world. One I had never spent much time in because it just didn’t fit who I was. Now, its such a huge part of me and I can’t imagine my life without it. She’s helped me begin to lead a healthier lifestyle and she’s taught me to be more independent. I like to think that we’re invincible.

If I were to leave the Netherlands, Bonnie is one of the things I would miss the most. I already miss her whenever I go away, no matter how long I’m gone. Yet she’s always there waiting for me when I get back so we can go off on our latest adventure. It’s funny that the part of living here I thought I would dislike the most has become something I now can’t live without. Bonnie and I have known each other for about a year now, and I can honestly say that it’s been the best year of my life. And Bonnie has a lot to do with that. I hope that we have many more years together, and wherever I end up, if Bonnie’s still around, I’ll be taking her with me.

Who would have thought that I’d end up feeling this way about a bike? I certainly didn’t.

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Romance met Contrabas

On September 30, 2009, I had the pleasure of attending the Nederlands Film Festival. This year marked the festival’s 29th year of existence. Independent films are submitted and nominated for the coveted Gouden Kalf (Golden Calf) award and shown at various locations.

Unfortunately, I found out about the event a bit too late and was only able to make it to one film. Hoping to improve my Dutch, I was disappointed when the film turned out to be in English. The movie, however, was a delightful combination of fantastic angles, great story, stunning music by a live orchestra, and avant garde dance… though not without fault.

Romance met Contrabas, or Romance with Double Bass, is a short story written in 1886 by Anton Tsjechov (also spelled Chekhov) about a double bass player who gets himself in quite the pickle, dragging the poor princess Biboelova along for the ride. A long and hard Google search left me with nothing on the piece but a synopsis of the 1974 film version starring John Cleese.

The music was undoubtedly the best part of the evening. Piano, voice, viola, guitar, accordion, laptop, electronic board, and, of course, double bass all came together to create a most incredible sound. Highlights were alto Helena Rasker and bassist Quirijn van Regteren Altena. The multi-talented Janica Draisma performed a live dance solo, starred as Biboelova, and narrated the film. Oh, and she directed, adapted, and filmed the piece too (well, the parts she wasn’t in anyway).

It took me the first half of the 75 minute film to realize the the bassist onstage before me was none other than the fellow playing the hapless musician Smytsjkov (or Smychkov). He was an absolute delight in the film.

My major critiques are relatively few. First, I thought the dance was just a bit too bizarre. I do love modern and contemporary dance styles, but this was nothing more than waving the arms about interspersed with one or two weak hitch-kicks. It had absolutely no point and was, in my opinion, a huge distraction.

There were also a few inconsistencies. Like when Smytsjkov decides to hide in the bushes nearby the bridge. He ends up under a bridge with no bushes in sight. At another point, the narrator makes a point of saying that when Biboelova emerged from the water, only her jar of bait was to be found – her clothing having been stolen while she was in the lake retrieving her water lilies. I saw no jar of bait, but I did see her shoes, which she immediately put on and wore throughout the rest of the film. Perhaps shoes are not considered clothing in Russia?

The unnecessary and awkward sex scene that apparently took place in Smytsjkov’s imagination would have been better off cut from the final version of the film. There was a particularly poignant scene that ends Tsjechov’s story, where Biboelova strolls along the bridge above an oblivious Smytskov who, folks in the nearby village say, is still searching for his beloved Biboelova. This would have been the perfect ending to the film. But Ms. Draisma had other ideas. Other ideas that screamed “hey, lookie what I can do with a camera!”

By cutting the pointless ending after the ending and shortening some painfully long shots, the movie could easily have been about 10 minutes shorter and a lot easier to sit through. (At one point Biboelova has gone into the lake to fetch her water lilies. There are endless shots of her underwater as your bottom gets numb and you start to lose your focus. Finally after she pops up, the narrator describes her search as having taken 15 minutes. “I know!” I wanted to shout. “I just sat here and watched all 15 minutes of it!”)

All in all, an enjoyable artistic film accompanied by a nice glass of wine and surrounded by drinks and girl talk with a good friend. As for the Nederlands Film Festival? I’ve already got it on my calendar for next year.

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Driving Rant: Passing your rijbewijs exam

I passed my rijbewijs exam…. the time has come, my precious!

As of next Wednesday afternoon, I will be a licensed driver here in the Netherlands. Yes, this morning I took (for the second time) and passed (for the first time) my Rijbewijsexamen!

As obtaining one’s Dutch license is difficult and expensive enough as it is, I thought I’d throw you a bone (it’s the only one you’ll get!) and share some tips:

  1. Forget the concept of “gradual acceleration.” They want you to instantly reach the higher speed as soon as you see the sign.
  2. Do not stop or slow down at shark’s teeth or yield signs unless you actually see something coming. Supposedly your slowing down obstructs the traffic behind you too much.
  3. Unlike in the US, you look in your mirrors and to the side before you put on your turn signal. This took me the longest time to get right!
  4. Cyclists have the right-of-way. Always. They know this and feel as though it makes them exempt from following any and all traffic rules and regulations.
  5. Always, always, always stay in the right-hand lane unless you are making a left hand turn on a multiple lane road. If there are more than one left-turn lanes, you must stay in the rightmost one. 
  6. Always drive the posted speed limit and no slower unless it is dangerous to do so.
  7. On an equal crossing, the vehicle to the right has priority. Always look to the right at every intersection when traveling on non-priority roads. This rule also holds for bikes, mopeds, and motorcycles.

Know what to expect
Before setting foot in the vehicle, you will be asked to read the license plate number of a car across the parking lot from where you are standing.

Once you arrive at the test vehicle, you may be asked to pop the hood open. At this point, the examiner will ask you to identify the car parts under the hood. Usually, they skip this part and ask you to step into the vehicle right away. There, you will be asked to identify lights, gauges, and buttons inside the car.

Then, you’re off!

During the course of the exam from this point on you will be expected to: perform two special maneuvers; listen to a series of directions from the examiner which you will then be expected to carry out (cluster opdraag); drive on the highway; drive through a precinct; navigate the way to a specified destination using road signs only.

Be prepared to fail the first go around. The CBR seems to enjoy failing people at least once just out of principle. Good luck!

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